Mridu Khullar Relph
In April of this year, the Food and Drug Administration rejected a petition by the Natural Resource Defense Council asking for an outright ban on Bisphenol A (BPA), a controversial chemical that has been used for more than 40 years in metal food and beverage cans, baby bottles and other plastic food containers.
“BPA is an organic compound that has hormone-like properties,” says Dr. Jennifer Landa, former gynecologist and Chief Medical Officer of BodyLogicMD and the owner/operator of BodyLogicMD of Orlando. “Substances like these are known as endocrine disruptors because they disrupt the hormone system in the body. BPA can act like estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors, and it can even act like estrogen through other means.”
There have been studies linking fetal BPA exposure to an increased risk of childhood obesity, diabetes, and possible changes in the brain that increase the risk of autism and ADHD, Landa says. In fact, Canada and the European Union have banned BPA in baby bottles because of evidence that it interferes with fetal, neonatal and childhood development.
So why did the FDA reject a petition asking for its ban?
The agency justified its ruling by talking about the uncertainty of the claims made by detractors. “While evidence from some studies have raised questions as to whether BPA may be associated with a variety of health effects, there remain serious questions about these studies, particularly as they relate to humans,” the agency’s statement said.
The Low-Down on BPA
So, given all this uncertainly and conflicting research, should you be worried?
Yes, say health experts.
“There is some evidence from recent studies that BPA can lead to obesity,” says Dr. Landa. “Some studies point to BPA being able to actually change the structure of our genes in fat or brain cells as a fetus or in childhood that can lead to changes in the way we gain weight, or in our appetite as an adult.”
Further, she says that BPA has been linked to neurological issues like autism, ADHD, memory deficit and others, and it interferes with thyroid function by binding to thyroid receptors. “Studies do link exposure to BPA to reproductive system abnormalities, which may include cancers like breast and prostate cancer, infertility, and more,” she says.
In 2011, a study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that volunteers who consumed a serving of canned soup each day for five consecutive days had a more than 1,000 percent increase in urinary BPA concentrations than those of individuals who had consumed fresh soup for those five days.
“The magnitude of the rise in urinary BPA we observed after just one serving of soup was unexpected and may be of concern among individuals who regularly consume foods from cans or drink several canned beverages daily,” said Karin Michels, the senior author of the study. “It may be advisable for manufacturers to consider eliminating BPA from can linings.”
Following this, Campbell’s announced a plan to phase out the use of BPA in its can linings and said the shift to BPA-free cans had already begun.
"We believe manufacturers absolutely should, and in most cases do, act in the best interest of consumers and independently take on initiatives to protect consumers," says Levon Kurkjian, the Vice President of Marketing at Kettle Cuisine, a company that offers a variety of soups, chilis and chowders in BPA-free plastic bowls. "Manufacturers often proactively engage in cutting edge research initiatives, individually or as a member of a trade organization, to ensure food safety in our continuously evolving food system. In this case, since science has come out on both sides, I can understand the reluctance to make changes, but we believe there is enough evidence to be concerned and to avoid BPA."
In addition to cans and plastic containers, BPA is also found in dental fillings, cash register receipts and other products, says weight-loss specialist and endocrinologist Dr. Scott Isaacs, who is also the author of the forthcoming book Hormonal Balance: How to Lose Weight by Understanding Your Hormones and Metabolism (Bull Publishing, June 2012). According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, more than 90 per cent of Americans have detectable BPA in their urine.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
Knowledge is the best weapon against all ills, including BPA and other chemicals that now free-flow through our environment and our food products. Here are a few steps you can take to minimize your family’s exposure to BPA.
Mridu Khullar Relph
Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist who writes for Time magazine, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, Global Post, Ms., and the Christian Science Monitor, among others. She is a contributing editor at Elle’s Indian edition and has also contributed to the US and international editions of Glamour, Vogue, Self, and Marie Claire.